Survivors' Voices: Grooming, Part 3
I can tell by the number of submissions this month that the topic of grooming is very important to many who have experienced abuse. I have extended the post into a third installment to be able to share all of these reflections. (Part 1 and Part 2 also offer powerful insights, if you have not read those yet.)
* Note: The final reflection in this post includes a graphic description of childhood sexual assault. I am including these words to respect the wishes of this victim-survivor, but please consider whether it will be good for you to read them. *
As a true predator does, he asked me to tell him about myself. The difference is that predators are listening and watching for weaknesses to exploit. Gathering intel for their later use to inflict as much pain as possible. Along the way, they push your boundaries - in little ways at first, but growing more bold over time. Like a frog in a pot of water on the stove, you don't realize you're in trouble until it's too late.
My abuser sexually abused me beginning at 10 years old and he also groomed my family so they would never suspect what he was doing to me. He worked in public relations for the boy scouts. He was a smooth talker and a "likeable" person. He used me as a model for a national boy scout ad campaign. He also arranged for me to sit in the Dodgers dugout while posing with one of the players for another ad campaign. His "grooming bait" was pornography. He came for a Thankgiving meal with our family while I purposely sat at the other end of the table, never acknowledging him while drowning in shame and guilt.
I think what people misunderstand about grooming is that on some level, it feels good. The abuser is in a position of power and he lavishes you with love and attention. He is masterful in his manipulation. Part of that mastery is an emotional awareness that indicates to him exactly what you are seeking, what you need, or where you are wounded. He walks straight into that and offers a believable remedy, one that includes the vastness of God's love. The fact that it feels good to find healing or to connect with someone who offers safety and love does not mean that the victim wants or is asking for the abuser to take advantage of her. Her feelings have been manufactured by the abuser through the grooming, and this is the whole point, so that she allows what she otherwise would not allow. He betrays her trust. Then others betray her, by saying that her feelings mean that she wanted... what she got.
(Trigger warning: Details of childhood sexual assault.) Trying to address the issue of grooming was very triggering for me. It put me in the mind of a very young child (age 7), when the Monsignor first made friends with me. My mother had asked for his help when she caught my uncle assaulting me on the bathroom floor at our home. The Monsignor was gentle, kind, and caring. He would talk softly. He would sit down next to me, touch my arm or my shoulder. My home life was chaotic and touch-starved, so I hungered for his loving touch and kindness. As his touching became more uncomfortable, I would squirm and feel frozen. Over the course of several weeks, his progressive touching made me feel uncomfortable and confused… then it would hurt. He kept assuring me that everything was OK. It progressed to a strange and bizarre combination of pain and pleasure as he began reaching his fingers into my vagina. I would freeze and feel immobilized. I would cry and want to leave, but he assured me that everything that I was feeling was what Jesus wanted for me, and that if I left, Jesus would be disappointed. He was constantly telling me how special I was, to him and to Jesus, and that this was our special time, so special that we should never tell anyone. It was between us and Jesus. It took the Monsignor several more weeks, then months, to insist on penile insertion. I had been resisting and refusing that step. He kept reassuring me and exuded kindness and patience… until that patience ran out. One day he boiled over at my refusal. He became angry and began forcing himself on me. I was able to break free of his grasp and I ran as fast as I could, the entire length of the church, up the stairs, and into the choir loft, where I hid. Unfortunately, he found me, and in his screaming rage, he raped me violently. He threatened that if I ever told anyone he would kill me, and my family. In my state of terror, I never told anyone, and I complied with his continued rapes for the next several years.
Thank you to each person who shared a reflection on this topic, and to everyone who took the time to read and share. I know these stories are hard to hear - and so much harder to live.
May we all find healing and peace.